Ethnobotanicals and Improved Mental Acuity

Historically, certain ethnobotanicals were believed to make people smarter, improve memory, and reduce stress. We’ve listed several of these medicinal herbs below.


Mitragyna Speciosa known as kratom can stimulate the brain. Many kratom users report cognitive enhancement that really gets the ideas flowing. Some say they can get into states of high productivity, artistic mindsets, and can ease the difficulties of multitasking.

The plant has been used for centuries in Thailand, and Indonesia. Field workers in those areas use it for the natural energy and strength to get through the day.  

Ginkgo biloba

Some people believe that the Ginkgo biloba tree, sometimes called the “maidenhair tree,” may improve mental acuity.

People in China, Japan, and Korean cultures have cultivated the medicinal herb for over a thousand years. They used extracts of the ginkgo biloba as an herbal medicine. Ginkgo biloba contains flavonoids and terpenoids, both of which are antioxidants. Antioxidants protect nerves, heart muscles, blood vessels and preventing retina damage. Antioxidants also improve mental acuity. Research has found that in healthy individuals, ginkgo biloba immediately helped with attention.

In Europe, gingko biloba is one of the natural remedies used to treat dementia. Doctors suspected that the herb helped with the ailment because it improves blood flow to the brain. Newer studies suggest that it may protect nerve cells damaged by Alzheimer’s disease. Alzheimer’s patients find that gingko biloba sometimes improves mental clarity, making their day-to-day lives easier.


Rosemary may improve memory and concentration.


In Shakespeare’s play, Hamlet, the character Ophelia suggests that Laertes use rosemary for memory enhancement. The ancient Greeks and Romans are said to have worn laurels of the herb to improve their thinking.

Modern experiments prove that there may be more to these ancient practices that superstition. In one study, researchers placed rosemary oil onto an aroma stream fan to fill a room with the fragrance. They then asked participants to perform tasks meant to gauge their ability to remember events. A second group of participants took these tests in a room without rosemary fragrance. The participants in the rosemary-scented room received better scores on the memory tests than participants in the unscented room.

Oat Straw

Oat straw, the green, grass-like part of immature oat plants, has shown signs of increasing mental clarity. Practitioners of European folk medicine have used it for many years.

More recently, researchers found that oat straw helps increase cognitive performance when ingested. In one study, some participants received oat straw extract and others received a placebo. The ones who received the extract did better on arithmetic tests than those who took the placebo. Taking wild oat seems to affect the left frontotemporal area of the brain, the same section involved in cognitive tasks.


Ginseng is a medicinal herb well known for its prominence in Chinese medicine. There are two types of ginseng. There is panax ginseng (Asian ginseng) and panax quinquefolius (American ginseng). Panax ginseng grows in Korea, China, and parts of Russia. It increases mental function, including memory, attention, concentration, and ability to cope with stress.

Some research has shown that the medicine herb can improve abstract thinking abilities. Other studies have shown that it can help improve the ability to complete detail-oriented editing and arithmetic.


Peppermint, used in toothpaste and candy canes, can also help boost mental functioning. Essential oil, fresh leaves, or brewed tea made from peppermint can increase mental acuity.

One study found that the aroma of the medicinal healing herb increased cognitive performance. Other studies have shown that the aroma of peppermint oil can improve the memory and alertness of those who take it. It might also be an effective home remedy for nausea and stress relief.


Brahmi (Bacopa monniera) may improve human memory. In one study, participants received a brahmi while others took a placebo. Those that used the herb had better rates of learning and retaining new information.


Ashwagandha may help reduce daily stress.


Ashwagandha is an Indian herb. Its name means “horse-like” in Sanskrit, a reference to its strong smell.

The ashwagandha root and berries contain adaptogens, which can help the body cope with daily stress. Researchers have found that the antioxidant properties of ashwagandha produce its cognitive benefits.

One study found that the healing herb prevented impairment of spatial memory due to oxidative stress on the brain. Other studies on rats have found that the medicine herb helps animals navigate a maze.

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Have you used ethnobotanicals for improved cognitive function? Let us know your experience in the comments.